Australia passed its first major climate legislation in more than a decade to set legally-binding targets to deepen emissions curbs, sealing the key polluter’s return as a force in global action on planetary warming.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Climate Change Bill, which legislates a 43% cut to carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, finally passed the Australian Senate on Thursday, though only after his government accepted it’ll need to continue to accelerate the scale of its ambition.
The target to cut emissions brings Australia closer into line with allies including Canada, South Korea and Japan, but leaves the country — for years an outcast on climate policy among developed nations — lagging behind the US, European Union and the UK.
Under the legislation, which cleared the Senate by 37 votes to 30, Australia will have mandated climate targets for the first time in its history and Energy and Climate Minister Chris Bowen will need to provide an annual statement to parliament on the government’s progress on emissions. Still, much of the detail on exactly how Australia will reduce carbon pollution will come through future legislation.
That’s a contrast with nations like the US, which set out clear details — and specific funding — on how it plans to achieve climate targets in President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, passed last month.
Pro-climate action minor parties, independent lawmakers and activists including billionaire technology tycoon Mike Cannon-Brookes have all pressed Albanese’s Labor government to go further on plans to curb emissions and questioned his administration’s continued support for fossil fuels, including a decision to oppose an amendment calling for a ban on new coal and gas developments.
“The law should serve as a springboard for more action, it needs to be backed up by credible climate action across every sector of the economy,” Amanda McKenzie, chief executive officer of the Climate Council, an advocacy group, said in a statement. “The 2020s are the make or break decade for keeping global warming to survivable limits.”
Nonetheless, acceptance of the bill is a victory for Albanese who won office in a May national election in May in part because of pledges to step up action on climate change. His Labor government has said it will take further action to lower emissions, including strengthening a system to cut corporate emissions.
The climate legislation will return to the House of Representatives where it is expected to pass quickly due to the Labor government’s majority.
Thanks to @DavidPocock for voting for these amendments.
The crossbench are ready to push this Government to go further & faster on climate. That's what people voted for, that's what we're there to deliver.
— Adam Bandt (@AdamBandt) September 8, 2022
Australia has long been regarded as a global laggard on climate action, in part because of its desire to protect its status as a key fossil fuels producer. The nation is the world’s largest exporter of metallurgical coal, the second largest thermal coal shipper and a key supplier of natural gas.
A law instituting a price on carbon emissions was passed in 2011 under then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard, however it was repealed two years later by the center-right Liberal National Coalition, which had campaigned against the measure and won an election in 2013.